The Gladys & Henry Crown Center for Senior Living is set to unveil a new initiative that aims to increase programming options, expand its reach into the community and spotlight physical improvements to its longtime facility off Delmar Blvd.
“I think the whole idea is that it’s barrier-free, that this is going to be low-key, easy-to-access and designed especially for people who are retired,” said executive director Nikki Goldstein. “Those things make it unique.”
Set to rollout over the next year or so, the concept is called “Circle@Crown” and will feature a wider array of classes through partnerships with groups like Center of Contemporary Arts, OASIS, Central Agency for Jewish Education and the Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library.
There will also be a revamp of facilities — with changes to the fitness center, expanded outdoor seating for class and the possible construction of a greenhouse to create more gardening options. A new dairy kitchen will also be added allowing the complex to offer breakfast and lunch in a coffee shop environment with wifi access being available in the dining area.
“We’ll have a demonstration kitchen where we’ll bring in chefs from outside to teach cooking classes and hopefully use the expertise of our residents to teach the cooking of their own ethnic foods,” said Sally Altman, chair of the resident and community services committee. “We have a wide variety of ethnicities at Crown. We might have a Chinese food class. We might have a cooking for Passover class or a soul food class.”
Altman said outdoor programming activities and classes are also likely to see an expansion and a greater range of activities from book clubs to intergenerational tutoring could be in the offing.
The concept for the new initiative is based off the Café Plus model premiered by Mather LifeWays, an Evanston, Ill.,-based group that deals with best practices for seniors. Combining learning programs with a café setting, the idea is designed to attract individuals from the surrounding community to a senior center or similar facility. It’s been described as “Starbucks for seniors.”
Jeffrey Cohen, Crown’s president, said he and others from the board took a trip to Chicago to further explore the Mathers dynamic and come up with a localized version.
“This is the first time it’s being done in St. Louis,” said Cohen. “It’s been in other communities but we’re sort of tailoring the idea into a unique model for the Crown Center.”
He said the Mathers idea allows for great flexibility in implementation with the overall goal to make the facility a destination for others in the neighborhood to come by for social or educational events.
“On one level we are expanding what we were already doing but in a better way that allows us to expand our impact in the community in hopes to bring a lot more of the community in,” he said. “That’s critical to helping to improve housing for our current residents by being able to interact with the community.”
Goldstein said the effort’s $1.1 million price tag should cover the facilities changes as well as a year’s worth of operations and that the center has already received a major grant from the Trio Foundation of St. Louis. She said Crown was now kicking off fundraising for the initiative and hoped to see elements of it phased in over time. Meanwhile some of the partnerships with local groups were already underway. Crown began working with OASIS last year on building a number of cultural and wellness activities for residents.
“We’re not trying to recreate the wheel and become all of this,” she said. “There are experts in all of those areas and we’re bringing them together in a new type of collaboration.”
Goldstein envisions the work as being part of Crown’s overall philosophy of promoting independent living.
“I think it builds on what we already do well,” she said. “Based on scientific, medical and social science research, there’s a lot of evidence that being engaged with other people, having meaningful work or volunteer opportunities, physical activity and creative endeavors can prevent depression and increase life satisfaction.”
Altman said that the roots of the idea came from the needs of those living at Crown.
“First, we looked to our residents and said, ‘What can we bring to you that will enhance your living experience?’” she said. “We really want to be an innovator in healthy older adult aging and it’s always been a priority for us.”
Goldstein notes that the name itself is significant in conveying the goal of promoting greater interaction.
“We thought of a knitting circle or a book circle, a circle of friends,” she said. “It just has that connotation of being inclusive and comforting and being a good place to be.”